Skip to main content

By Sarah C. Threnhauser

Seventy-five percent of health and human service managers were offered another job this year—and 18% of them pursued that offer. Thirty-five percent of these managers say they are planning to leave their organization in the next year. Eighty-seven percent would consider leaving for the right opportunity. These were the most surprising of many findings in the recently released B.E. Smith’s 2018 Healthcare Trends Survey, which made me think about retention (why do managers stay? and why do they leave?) and succession (what do we do if they leave?).

In planning talent management strategies, it is interesting to note that colleagues and job flexibility were the most important factors in career satisfaction—but compensation and job flexibility were most important to the decision whether to stay with their current organization. Career advancement is another big reason that managers leave. Thirty-two percent of health and human service managers reported that they think they have to leave their current organization to advance their career. These findings are consistent with the rising turnover rates at the C-Suite level in health and human services, particular among CEOs.

A recent survey by the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) placed CEO turnover in health care at 18% in 2016 (see Hospital CEO Turnover Rate Remains Steady). With this level of churn, it is surprising to me how few organizations have succession plans in place. One-third of organizations have a succession plan in place—22% of organizations have succession plans for all levels of leadership. But 37% of organizations have no program at all. This is surprising because of the ramifications of management team departures—ramifications which are mitigated slightly by having a succession action plan at the ready. CEO departures have substantial effects on organizations, including in strategy development, employee engagement, financial performance, and community relationships. And, the research found that CEO departures tended to trigger other departures—of chief financial officers, chief operating officers, and chief nursing officers in particular.

For managers thinking about retention of existing talent and recruiting new talent, what are the best practices? For more, I reached out to OPEN MINDS Senior Associate, Sharon Hicks. She had an interesting perspective on the problem: C-suite managers are staying longer, and the managers reporting to them are growing tired of waiting for the top slots.

OPEN MINDS Sharon Hicks
Sharon Hicks

We have an increasing number of leaders in their 60s, 70s, and 80s who are not retiring—and have no plans to retire. Obviously, there are many factors to this phenomenon including longer life spans and information-based work. I’m not saying this is necessarily bad, but it creates some very specific retention issues. One consequence is that we are not creating a culture in which our middle-aged leaders see upper management as a real option. The question to ask in your organization is, “do the leaders at the very top actually see themselves as replaceable?” I fear that a large number of those people do not view themselves as replaceable—and are not making room for management staff to grow into the C-Suite positions. Let’s just call this the “Queen Elizabeth Phenomenon.” On her 92nd birthday, the Queen finally named Prince Charles as her successor—at age 69.

When our seasoned leadership has no plans to retire, it takes away the thought among managers to plan for the time when they are in charge. This takes away the incentive to learn how to become effective leaders. And, when our seasoned leadership is telling themselves that they are so mission critical that the organization cannot go on without them, they are sending a message to the next in line that those staff are not ready, smart enough, talented enough, or trusted enough to be in charge.

One way to address this situation is to have concrete succession plans for every managerial position. The plan should identify the candidate next in line and provide them with opportunities for increasing responsibilities related to the actual work of the leader whom she or he will replace. Give people a bigger stake in the game and you will get a bigger commitment to the game.

For more on succession planning, check out these resources in the OPEN MINDS Industry Library:

  1. From Clinician To Manager-Rethinking Best Practice
  2. Health & Human Leadership Trends: The 2017 OPEN MINDS National Executive Compensation & Retention Survey
  3. Succession Planning – The Reality
  4. Mergers As A Succession Planning Strategy
  5. Succession Planning: The Key To Long-Term Leadership Success
  6. Planning To Retire? Take Some Advice From Four CEOs Who’ve Been There
  7. The Flight Of The CEO
  8. Succession Planning Process For Building A Leadership Pipeline
  9. When The Competition Succeeds At Pay-For-Performance, What Will You Do?
  10. What’s Your Leadership Strategy?

For more on building an effective leadership team, mark your calendar now for The 2018 OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Retreat, taking place September 18-20 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This experiential program focuses on the skills needed to manage organizational change and build a nimble organization—blending strategy development, management best practices, and innovation. Classroom sessions, field trips with historians, creativity development, resiliency skills are all part of this unusual approach.

Login to access The OPEN MINDS Circle Library. Not a member? Create your free account now!


Support Request

Need help now?

Call our toll-free phone number 877-350-6463